Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Picture This


I am on a quest to prep hundreds of family photos, shaping each into 2-inch by 2-inch squares so that they will fit into stylized animated photo albums set to music.

The project is a chance to chronicle, as best as I can, both sides of the family: the Greenes (mom's side) and the Turners.

I've created folders within folders, in which I dump the prepped images, using a naming convention I will remember later. Like "mom_and_dad_1, mom_and_dad_2" etc. Or "sonny_1, sonny_2"

My mother has five siblings, and amongst them they have 12 children, and amongst those children are countless children. Add to that my mother's four children and all of our children. My father's family tree is similarly branched. Four siblings, 10 children, numerous offspring.

All of these humans - the Turners and the Greenes - have had their lives photographed in thousands of different occasions, in bad light and in good, cropped queerly by the photographer and framed perfectly by others. Taken digitally or by Polaroid and every type of camera in between.

Some photos are scratched and dog-eared. Others are so old and yet so pristine that you feel like you're handling the Mona Lisa when you slip them out of their frames.

There are long photos and short; rectangular and a few ovals too. There are images of cousins making goofy faces that, when I look at them, I think Hmm. That one's going to be used.

Until I come upon a picture of my sister and I flaring our nostrils and sticking out our lips. Then I think Hmmm. We'll conveniently lose that one

In the end I hope to build musical slide shows for each family, place them all onto a DVD and distribute them to the Greene/Turner masses.

Why, pray tell, would I do this you say?

There is something therapeutic about taking an inventory of family pictures. You can't help but feel reconnected. As each image comes under the Photoshop knife, you are naturally forced to give pause and reflect. You name the people in the image and you try to recall when it was taken and what was happening at the time. A family reunion. Uncle so-and-so's birthday party at Whatchamacallit Lake in 19whatever. And who the hell is that little snot-nosed grubber there in the corner? Cousin Angus? Wow, he used to have hair?

And for those photos taken before my time I am particularly intrigued by. I wonder who took the shot. What the occasion was. And who the unfamiliar people are. I want to know their names, where they are now.

Photography captures only a single moment. No sound or motion. No running monologue you can listen to. It's a flash and a frame and that's it and with my writer's mind constantly in overdrive, I find myself adding a semi-fictional narrative to embellish what little I know.

Take a photo I have that includes my parents before they were married. Probably shot in 1955 or 1956. Now, I know as much about the mid to late 50s as the movies have taught me, which means I know a lot of cliches. The jukebox in the corner spinning Chubby Checker. Coke bottles. The rolled up cuffs of jeans and everyone smoking, even the girls. No-good kids draggin' out on Route 55.

Poodle skirts and The Stroll.

My father is wearing a tuxedo, so I'm guessing it's prom. He and his friends are all lounging about in someone's living room either before or after the dance. Did he take mom? Did they jitter bug together? Did they share a beer out behind the dance hall before they went in?

What was the topic of conversation among this bunch of rowdies? Girls? Sex? I doubt it was about the weather. Were they planning a rumble with the local college kids (it was in Farmington, home of the University of Maine)?

Did they all have switch blades? Were they gonna break out into song, snapping their fingers and singing as they lurch, in perfect formation, down a side alley toward the college pukes who were tryin' to steal their chicks?


When you're a Jet,
You're a Jet all the way
From your first cigarette
To your last dyin' day.


Anyway. This quest I'm on. To prep and organize decades of history in the form of hundreds of images. It's more than a labor of love.

It's more like a history lesson wrapped into a trip down memory lane rolled into a Broadway Musical Soundtrack.

Crap. I can't get West Side Story out of my head now.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Consider Me Blessed

This morning, at 9 a.m., we trek to the local offices of DHHS for our second and final home study interview, the results of which (we hope) will clear the way for us to adopt.

This second interview will include our children. All six of them, answering questions about their home life with us. Three are teenagers. One is 11. The other two are too little to understand but they still need to be asked questions apparently.

The teens are predictably THRILLED to be dragged out of bed while on Christmas vacation to go talk about how often we beat them.

In truth, Corrine and I are nervous. This sort of exercise brings into focus, for the first time, what our children think of our parentage. Think about it. How often does a child get asked questions specific to their home life? It's one of the closely guarded secrets. I was certainly never asked, while I was growing up, by a total stranger. It puts the spotlight on us as parents. It exposes us in a way we've never been exposed before.

We're not afraid that they will reveal anything bad. We're afraid that their interpretation of growing up, and how they frame it to the DHHS social worker, might get misconstrued.

I picture Ty, the 11 year old, thusly:

DHHS: Does your mother or step-father ever hit you?
Ty: No, but Andy says the F word when he watches football.

DHHS: Is there alcohol in your house?
Ty: Yeah, but mom makes sure Andy doesn't drink out of the can. He has a special glass.

Or how about our 2-year-old, Gabrielle, whose favorite thing now is to wear a bikini top over her shirt and call it her "boobies"

DHHS: Do you like being with your mommy and daddy?
Gabi: Wanna see my boobies?

DHHS: Does mommy spank you?
Gabi: I have pretty boobies

You see, it's a matter of context and interpretation when it comes to the answers children give, something DHHS has no angle on. They read questions from a list on a piece of paper and jot down the answers. I fear, with our lot, DHHS will get some of the most outrageous answers and not being able to apply the proper filter.

The interview will conclude with a sit-down with Corrine and I to finish out the process. I will be dying to know what she gleaned from her talk with our kids.

Dying!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

My Seven Wonders

Griffin Alan Kent
the little king of our hearts
whose smile is at the ready

warming in its brillian
ce
brilliant in its purest of love



Gabrielle Marrae
alone in a field of dandelions
the blue-eyed daisy
wanting to be picked
and held forever


Ty Gabriel
who marks time
unafraid to ask a question
twice or thrice
and yet his well of knowledge
will never be as full as his capacity to love


Alyssa Jean
the girl with a will
matched only by her mother
who raised her not to be a shrinking violet
but to stand as tall
as she is beautiful

Harrison Scott
my prince
my guide and my star
who embodies all the goodness
and achieves all the great things
I once dreamed of


Fallon Paige
will always be
the first of many things
for me
to see cry
to see laugh
to hold
to be hugged by
to see come
and to see go
but always always my first


Corrine
she will always be the
work of art
I had no hand in creating
but cherish the most

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

400 And Counting

I'm closing in on 400 pages of the new novel, and I'm at a pivotal point in the creative process.

There comes a time, at least for me anyway, when I have to put the brakes on and do a full review.

You see, I write from the seat of my pants, laying down the tracks just ahead of the engine, so to speak. I don't plot a thing. But there comes a time when, in the journey, I have to stop and look back. If I don't then the journey would never end.

That's what I've been doing these past few days: reading the entire rough draft. All 390 pages. I don't edit a word. I don't change a single punctuation mark. Rather, I write notes about the story in the margins. I ask questions about things like character motivation ("Why would Hamish say that?"; I express ideas of how I could tweak a certain passage ("Syssa would say more about this here") etc.

This is an important point for me. I know that if I've gotten to this stage, then there is a light at the other end. It means I'm probably a few weeks away from finishing the first draft, and that it's all downhill from there. In a good way, that is.

Someone with a lot more experience than me once said that the process of writing the first draft was like an archaeological dig. You know something is hidden deep down, so you've got to start somewhere. You begin with the miner's pick.

You're probing, chipping away, burrowing through layers, looking for the good stuff underneath. It's a very clear analogy as far as I'm concerned. Each word I type is a swing of the pick until, at some point, I've reached the skeletal remains of ... something. I'm never sure what it is until after the first draft.

I move to the softer archaeological implements at that point, like a brush, because I don't want to destroy what I've unearthed so far with heavy tools.

That's where I'm at. I've got a really good picture of what I've excavated, I just need to take stock and plan a course of action.

I need to see how far I've come before proceeding, and that's a great place to be in.

At some point I expect to reveal, at least in small ways, what I have, but I'm not ready to do that yet.

In the meantime I'll wipe the sweat off my brow, take a break, and then get back to work on the next stage.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fran

My best friend's mother passed away last evening. I'm saddened by the loss, but heartened by the notion that she is, at last, no longer suffering.

Her single greatest attribute was her personality. That sounds odd, perhaps, but what I mean is that her soft-spoken, nurturing, and kindly disposition came to her easily the way I have brown eyes or you have five fingers on each hand. Fran just never had to put on, so to speak.

She was the type of best friend's mother who never got demonstrably angry. At the height of her anger the fiercest you could say she ever got was "a little cross." That set her apart from the adult women in my own life; aunts, mostly, on both sides of my family, whose anger was loud as a whip and never, ever left you in doubt of your transgression.

I knew Franny since birth, literally, when she visited my mother shortly after I was born. She was a nurse in the public school district. I'm not sure why she came to see me. I guess I always thought it was customary. Have a child and the school nurse stops by to check out the goods. This was 1968, mind you.

Or perhaps it was her affiliation with my parent's church, and therefore she came as a friend? I don't really know. I guess my mother's recollection (on which I have to rely because, let's face it, I don't remember) has had me thinking all these years that she came in her professional capacity as a nurse. This is because my mother said she "marked down on the form that you were a "preemie." My mother was appalled. She has insisted I was never premature. I think my mother mistook what she was saying. My mother went full-term, but I was tiny. My mother - and I'm guessing here - must have thought Fran was under the impression I came small and early.

It's neither here nor there.

I'm just relating a story about the first time I "met" Fran Coulombe, my best friend's mother. I imagine her wearing a starched, white nurses uniform, with the little nurses hat, holding me, smiling, cooing to me in that petite voice she always had. It was Minnie Mouse cute. Adorable, even when I became an adult. I loved her childlike, small voice.

Ted, her oldest of two children, and I became friends later on so I spent countless overnights at their house or at their summer camp. Those were the moments you recall later on. The times you spend with the closest of friends. A best friend, and I had but one. And I will say it was because of Franny that Ted became that for me.

I can't recite, with any fairness, why that was. All I can say, at the risk of being unoriginal, is that Fran made me feel like I was more of a son than her son's best friend. To put it another way, I never felt like I was visiting someone's house, but their home. That's the best I can do today. Maybe, as time has worn on, things will clear out and become crystalline.

Her death, late last night, came at the end of about 20 years of battling cancer and the residual effects that the treatment brings about. I'm not intimate with the details, all I know is that she has fought, off and on, since around 1988 when she was first diagnosed and Ted was a student at Bates College.

I am glad she is with her God this morning.

I am grateful that she finally must not have to fight and that she can be forever at peace.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

But Alice, I'm HUGE in India

Show of hands. How many remember David Hasselhoff? I do. I used to like watching that racy, popular show he starred in back in the day. You know. Night Rider?

Anyway, David secured himself in the celebrity pantheon by not once, but FOUR TIMES making a comeback after his 15 minutes were over.

First, they canceled Night Rider and hundreds of avid fans were crushed. Like me. He was dropped from the celebrity A List faster than you could say "Ich bin ein Berliner!"

Then, out of the blue Pacific ocean he sprang, jogging up onto the beach and into our hearts. Glinting smile, perfectly coiffed chest hair, chiseled abs. You know. Like me. Except for the chest hair. Ewwww.

Anyway, Baywatch was so damn popular that the Shah of Fucking Iran used to watch it, and I'm not kidding. Entire generations of Middle Eastern boys thought every woman in America looked like Pamela Anderson, and all the men .. well, they really never looked at the men, let's face it.

So, David was back on top. Then, the show's popularity eroded (Get it? Baywatch. Eroded...never mind) and David once again fell out of the limelight.

Until, that is, he started a singing career. I shit you not. A pop singing career. And once again he was a huge hit.

In Germany.

In America he was laughed at. In Germany, girls were throwing their silk höschen at him and screaming "Ich liebe dich! Haben mein Baby!" at the tall drink of water.

Then, just recently, he made his most recent comeback by being one of three hosts on some talent show. I don't know what it's called. Something like Americans With No Talent or Americans With As Much Talent As David or You Too Can Be A Star In Germany.

Anyway, I told you all of that to tell you this.

Last night I couldn't sleep. So, what do I do when I can't sleep? Surf for midget porn, of course. It's a short list of sites, of course. There's very little to choose from. Not a very tall order to find them.

Okay, enough.

Actually, I Googled my name: Andrew Scott Turner, and I discovered, aside from my Facebook page and this blog, my name comes up in numerous sites for the novel. I was amazed. But what really excited me was that many of them were listed outside of the country. There was an online store from New Zealand. Oy! Several from the UK. And, drum roll please, three from India!

India! Isn't that wicked cool?

Okay, so I'm not really selling in these markets, but still. I was elated to see my name on these book seller's sites. It was a thrill. To know that, if some 13-year-old in India did a search for "books about girls who swim that takes place in the future and underground" MY NAME would appear!

Small steps. Small steps. It only takes ONE New Zealander to happen upon this book and presto! I'm selling like hot cakes.

I wonder what the German translation would read like.

"Strengere!"
"Ja, ich weiß! Ich weiß! Ich versuche"
Liv unraveled dem breiten Band der Stoff

....

Monday, December 15, 2008

Home and Away

Being laid off was the best thing that could have happened to me, despite it occurring within weeks of the birth of our daughter and the purchase of our house.

1. Because it forced me to finally take sides in an argument I had been having with myself for a long time: do I want to be a serious writer or do I want to be a ______ (fill in an occupation, and precede it with the word soul-sapping).

2. Because it allows me to wear sweatpants and the hand-me-down slippers my mother-in-law gave me. (I have little Sally feet, like my little Sally hands. They came as a set, in fact)

I was laid off in the fall of 2006 after two years as web master. Great job. Great pay. Great benefits. Great co-workers. Translation: I was miserable.

That is to say, I was comfortable, which means I was not writing. Which further means that, deep in the well of my soul, I was a disappointment to myself. No, not that self, the other one. The one who didn't want to be a writer, he HAD to be a writer. I was pretty good at self-loathing, if you will. A daily mantra my conscience would whisper to me as I showered and dressed: "Stephen King published HIS first novel when he was not yet 30. But hey, I see you're busy getting ready for your important job, so I'll let you get back to it. Nice tie, by the way."

The voice in my head - the one dogging me about not growing a pair and actually striking out on my own to be a writer - has always been there. It was always needling me. Goading me. For years. Until the day I was laid off.

My boss at the time sat across from me in his office and said the magic words: "We're not funding your position after this fiscal year."

A quick calculation in my head put the end of "this fiscal year" at 30 days from that moment. I was further told that I was not expected to work for the next 30 days, if I didn't want to.

My reaction surprised even myself. I was elated.

Okay, yes, of course, I was stunned too. I mean, getting laid off is a form of rejection. You can't help but feel like someone is pointing at your acne and laughing. It, you know, kinda sucks.

But I got over it fast. I remember saying "Well, that's too bad."

That was it. No indignation. No feelings of betrayal. No rumblings of sudden, deep loss. Honest to God I felt free. At the time I really didn't recognize where the feeling was coming from. Why did I feel like a prisoner being released? I liked what I did for work there. I was proud of my accomplishments. I got along with everyone. And yet, when I left his office, left for the day before noon - only to return for a few more days to help train - it was like I had been let out of school and told I didn't need to return.

I didn't worry about getting gainful employment. I did not rush home to check out the classifieds. I just didn't sweat it.

It was Corrine, actually, who made me realize why I had been so cavalier about just losing our meal ticket. She said four words.

"Now you can write."

The words - the verbal permission slip - I had been wanting my whole life to hear.

At the moment of being laid off I had been freed to make a decision. I didn't have to quit a good-paying job, it had been decided for me. I was given a clean slate, and Corrine had green-lighted it by her show of support and understanding.

And it has turned out to be everything I had expected: financially tough, but creatively enabling. A trade off, to be sure. But one I will take any day, now that I know what it feels like with the shoe on the other foot.

I don't loathe my days anymore, or myself for enduring them.

That, in a nutshell, is what has made it worthwhile.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

If I Had A Hammer


My father will be 70 in April. I had to write it down and look at that number because of the unreality of it for me. It has this ethereal quality when you put it in the same sentence with "My Father".

I am not one whose annual birthday has bothered him over the years as an adult. I've never cringed at admitting my age to anyone. In fact, when I turned 40 last March I felt no middle-aged flutter of the ego. No desire to buy a sports car or jump from a bridge. I remember thinking "Okay, it's just a number. A nice, round, even figure."

But my father turning 70 is bothering the hell out of me.

I could wax maudlin about "The Man Who Raised Me," or "My Dad, My Hero." There are a million words to be written about one's father and I won't lay them out here for you. There's too much histrionics involved between Arthur Ralph Turner and his youngest son to do any justice to the impact he has had on my life.

There usually is for anyone talking about either parent or grandparent. Mom or Dad or Nana or Grampy. An essay is a cruel sort of injustice, I think, to a doting parent. The high school "What Does Your Father Mean to You" kind of sap is a worthless endeavor.

But why 70? Why is my father going to be 70? Why can't it be 60 and stay there? Or better, 50, when I was 20 and out of my acerbic, confrontational teens and on the verge of becoming a father myself? When our conversations were constructive and friendly again, the way they were before I became Mr. Know It All.

This past summer he came to our house with a toolbox, perhaps the single collection of objects I will always associate with him forever. My father's lifelong occupation was as a public educator, first as a teacher of science, then a principal, and finally as a curriculum director. He ended his career, happily, one step away from superintendent, a position he swore against pursuing because of its political entanglements.

But his affinity for fixing things is what I like about him. He was raised in Farmington, Maine, and grew up on a dairy farm throughout much of his youth. He would rise early and milk the cows, go to school, play sports, and return home for more farming chores. A real, honest-to-god, uphill both ways in a snowstorm to get to school kind of childhood.

So, by association or familial osmosis, he learned how to use a hammer, and other tools of carpentry, from his own father. He also learned how to fix motors and to diagnose most household mechanical anomalies.

So he showed up this summer at our 1850 farmhouse to repair the decrepit front porch. The part of the porch that suffered the most footfalls and whose boards were rotting away.

And with him he brought his toolbox, along with a collapsible table saw and a couple of handmade sawhorses. The familiar sawhorses he's had kicking around the house forever.

And for the better part of the muggy summer day he measured and cut, hammered and leveled, fitted and refitted until, at last, we had a new porch floor and a healthy pressure-treated substructure beneath to absorb the heavy traffic.

I, as ever, stood by dumbly and watched, every so often handing off a tool the way a nurse hands off a scalpel to a brain surgeon.

I loved this, to be honest. It's been a long time since I stood by my father and watched him work like this. Not since I was a kid, frankly. I hovered and paced and asked questions and he answered patiently, even when a certain joist wasn't fitting properly or he had to crawl in the dirt beneath the porch to hammer a queerly angled nail into a two-by-four.

At nearly 70.

Do I regret not ever learning how to do these things myself? Sure. Of course I do. It would be handy to have, given that we live in a house built by Moses himself. But I have to tell you, had I known, then I would not have needed to ask him to bring his toolbox.

70. Jesus Christ. That's a heavy number.

70.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Love in the Time of A Home Heating Crisis

Last winter, in early March, I believe, we got a bitter taste of Maine reality. Winter had decided, in its cruel way, to hang around beyond its welcome.

It stormed all day on a Sunday and straight into Monday, and when it was all over, we had been nailed with 16 inches of snow. School was out. Which means all of our kids were home and all of the daycare kids. The house was rockin.

By Monday night the skies had cleared and that means the temperature plummeted to below zero.

In one night:

We ran out of propane, which heats our water and is used for cooking.

We ran out of home heating fuel, which, well, helps to heat our house.

We were out of firewood, having only ordered six cord the previous fall and due to the longer-than-usual winter last year had burned it up already. Frankly, with March here, we really were only looking at a month until spring. Usually. (This year, we ordered seven acres, just to be safe)

So, here's the patchwork of Yankee ingenuity we stitched together in order to get warm.

1. I found pieces of unused boards in my basement, left over from the previous owner, who had been a carpenter of sorts. I took these assorted boards and cut them using a skill saw. Me. Using a skill saw. I'll paint a picture for you: Barney Fife holding onto a growling saw with its round, toothy blade inches from my hand, my eyes closed, head turned away, imagining those Discovery Channel stories about men eviscerated by fly-away skill saw blades.

2. I purchased four armloads of Cumby Wood. Cumberland Farms, for those not living in Maine, is a convenience store. The kind where Joe the Toothless Chain Smoker buys $12 worth of scratch tickets and proceeds to narrate each goddamn scratch. All while the rest of us stand in line and wait.

"Yessa. I think I might have a winna, theya. I come down last week, ya know, and bought me a ticket and I'll be damned if I didn't win fahty dollas. Mutha got all riled up and I bought her a pint of Allens Coffee Brandy."

Scratch. Scratch. Scratch.

"Nope. Shee-it! That one was a looza. Can you toss that in ya circulah file, honey?"

3. I bought two 5-gallon K1 jugs, cuz in Maine if you don't use the correctly rated fuel container, Al Gore himself will kick your ever-loving ass. The state has contracted this service from him, so I've heard.

4. I cut out the bottom of a 2-liter Pepsi bottle using Corrine's favorite scissors. The once-sharp kind.

5. I trudged around the edge of our house, waist deep in snow, carrying these two K1-rated fuel jugs until I got to the oil pipe. Which is buried from the last storm.

6. I place the neck of the decapitated Pepsi bottle into the top of the oil pipe, and proceed, cautiously, to pour the kerosene into my oil tank, which is actually in our basement. Picture this: Barney Fife, one knee bracing the Pepsi bottle so it won't tip over, tongue stuck into one corner of my mouth, head turned for fear of kerosene splashing out and into my eyes and all the while worrying that someone's cell phone will ignite me. Hey, don't laugh. There's a reason you're not supposed to use those things at gas stations.

7. After pouring in the 10 gallons of kerosene into our 275-gallon oil tank (it sounded like someone pissing into a culvert. it sort of left me feeling really cold and empty) I then start fires in our living room and kitchen stoves, using the old scrap furniture wood from the basement and the Cumby Wood.

8. Corrine gathers the nine tiny ceramic space heaters used for thawing out pipes beneath the kitchen sink (also left over from the previous owner) and places them around our living room the same way you would set up speakers in a surround sound home movie studio. We have enough extension cords in use that I'm fairly certain we'll trip the breakers in all the houses on High Street.

9. All of our children amble down to the living room and immediately begin to bitch about it being cold, apparently oblivious to anyone or any circumstances more than an inch beyond their own skin. When told we ran out of heating fuel, one child had the temerity to say, under her breath (but let's face it, audible enough for us to hear it), "Daddy's house is always really warm," in reference to her father, who lives in another town in the House of Perfection and Perpetual Warmth and Love and Proper Parental Care

10. I offer, subtly, to escort said child to her beloved father's, by way of my foot up her ass, but Corrine shushes me before I get to "Listen, you..."

11. I go downstairs to prime the motor to the furnace. This is a set of sub-steps as follows:

a) Take a 3/4 inch wrench and place it on a nut at an impossible 90-degree angle to the motor. I have schoolgirl hands. Small, petite, feminine in their smallness. I'm not ashamed to admit that. I make up for it in other -ahem - areas. I do, however, ponder how the hell Kirk the Oil Furnace man, with his MAN HANDS (no joints, just sausage fat fingers) can possibly do this task.

b) I take an empty 12-ounce Mt. Dew bottle and place the neck up under the nut. Folks, if you make crude sexual jokes about this I will hunt you down.

c) With my girl hand firmly wrapped inside the motor, clutching the 3/4 inch steel wrench (it's cold in the basement. Imagine wrapping all fingers around a bar of ice) I gently loosen the nut, holding the Mt. Dew bottle in place with my knee, and I push the furnace reset button. The same furnace reset button that has, above it in bold capital letters, DO NOT RESET THIS MORE THAN ONCE.

Picture this: Barney Fife, kneeling on the cold half-cement/half dirt floor of our basement, little Sally hand tucked into the guts of a motor, holding a cold wrench, turning said wrench to loosen a tiny nut, bracing a Mt. Dew bottle with one knee, depressing the small reset button, eyes closed, head turned, and picturing that scene in Die Hard when the skyscraper loses an entire floor after officer John McClain drops a whole pound of plastic explosives down an elevator shaft.

What happens when you trip this reset button is that the motor chugs to life. You loosen the nut to allow actual fuel to squirt out into the bottle, sputtering sputtering sputtering until you get a good unbroken stream, then you tighten the nut. If you did it right, the air is out of the line and the fuel is then injected into the furnace, which roars to life WITHIN INCHES OF YOUR LITTLE PATHETIC SALLY DAINTY HAND

Of course, it never takes the first time. It usually means doing it three or four times. Three or four reset button trips, despite the ominous warning. We had it looked at later that year and I'll be a son of a bitch if Kirk the Oil Furnace Fat Sausage Finger Man didn't turn to me and say "Have you reset this more than once?" in that accusing, I'm a professional and you have girly hands, kind of way. I just said "Huh? Reset button what?"

So, the furnace is back purring and billowing beautiful warm air up up up into our house and leaking out through the various porous spots around every window, the eaves, and the roof, which is why we don't have an energy audit because let's face it, we KNOW we're heating the maple trees. We don't need no stinking energy audit to tell us that.

And then we break the news to our children that there is no propane. Which means there is no hot water. Which means no showers. Which means, heaven help us, the girls might not be able to break the record for most consecutive days with a shower that they started when they were 12, the same day they discovered boys.

We have a remedy for this too, of course. We gather every pot in the house, fill them with water, and place them on both stoves. When the water rises to a nice, toasty luke warm, we instruct them on how to bathe in the shower with the pot of water at their feet and a plastic cup.

Ever see the poster of the monkey in the hot springs? His coat of hair is covered in snow, only his head is above the steamy water and he's got the cheerless, You've-Got-To-Be-Effing-Kidding-Me look?

That's our children. Wrapped to the necks in blankets and sleeping bags, hair askew from slumber, and wearing looks of disgust that only a mother/step-mother could love.

They relent, because they have to. They understand that no amount of foot stomping, pouting, cursing and conjuring the name of their other, more reliable parent, will get them any closer to getting clean.

That happened in one day last winter. The perfect storm, if you will, of bad luck. But hey, as we told our mirthless, shivering, blue-lipped children: what doesn't kill you makes you stronger.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Nearly Seventeen


Fallon, my first
This daydreamer's first great dream
Now, nearly seventeen

She used to fall asleep on my chest
And her breathing was syncopated against my own
As if needing to establish an independent rhythm from the start

She now walks in the froth of the cold Atlantic
Her back to me, looking out into the ocean
This girl of mine

This child who is my first
Who takes after me, with her back turned, looking outward
Imagining anything and everything possible

This daydreamer's first great dream
Is now, nearly seventeen
But I still feel her on my chest


Friday, December 5, 2008

Mistakes Happen

Okay, there's been something bothering me lately, something that cropped up into my consciousness the way weeds do in an untended garden. And if I don't clip this particular mental weed, right now, It's going to choke me to death creatively.

I published a novel a little over a year ago, for middle readers. It was my first published work of fiction and I was proud of the accomplishment. I was scared, too.

Here I was, with a 404-page work, some 150,000 words. Two years of hard labor had produced an actual novel, with a beginning, middle, and an end. With characters talking and doing things. I had finally, at the age of 38, done something I truthfully thought I would do 20 years earlier.

I was elated. I was in love with my book. I reread the finished draft eight times, swimming in its pure perfection.

I was also in a hurry. I wanted to see the sucker in its final form: with a glossy cover, page numbers, my bio on the back.

So I made an executive decision to forgo paying for a professional editor. My only real BIG mistake of Surfacing. I mean, there were little ones here and there. Mistakes I mean. But really, the only BIG mistake, the rear view, hindsight-is-20/20 kind of mistake was not shelling out the $400 to have the thing scrutinized by a real editor.

Not by a friend. Not by some schmuck I used to work with at one of the three newspapers I used to work for back in the day. A real, honest-to-God, editor. Someone who could dig deep into the story but still catch the niggling grammatical slips.

I stand before you today and agree, had I done that last step before firing it off to be published, Surfacing would have been an improved story. That's how that works. It's common sense.

I admit it.

But in my defense, I was a boy with a new model airplane on his birthday. I wanted the thing to fly RIGHT NOW. And forgot to glue the parts together before sending her off on her maiden flight.

Some 15 months after the book was published, I am not unhappy with it. I don't lose sleep over the whole editor gaff. I've read it since it has been published, I catch a glitch here and there, but I'm supremely proud of the accomplishment.

Here's what is nagging at me. It was an email I received from a former coworker - of the newspaper variety - about six months after it was published. In it he begins by saying he purchased the book online and had read it.

Now, being that the book is for middle readers, when an adult tells me they've read it I'm a bit happily surprised. It's basic reading, folks. It's not John Le Carre. That's not being modest, but honest. It's a book for kids.

Anyway, he goes on to say, and I am quoting roughly here because I deleted the fucking email right away, "It's filled with mistakes."

Filled?

I got stuck by that word. A splinter beneath the skin.

And then, he went on, "You really should have someone check your work."

I had one of those moments when you're being confronted by someone unexpectedly and the light around the corners of your vision blurs and your face gets really hot.

That was how the email ended. Not a word about whether he liked the story or the characters or something.

I went into a week-long tailspin after that email. I reread the book in search of all those errors, determined to find one on every page. I hammered my own ego with the various self-inflicting comments only writers can relate. Unworthy. Fraud. No talent. Poser

Different things happen to most writers when their delicate egos have been bruised. For me, I conjure old writing adversaries - the kid in my sophomore English class whose writings were glorified by our teacher while my own efforts were ignored. Or the guy I worked with at a newspaper who won awards for reporting when my own reporting fell short.

I'm better today. But lately that email has come back for some reason. Maybe it's because I'm 80,000 words into a new novel. I don't know. What I do know is that I am certain of this: that email was a shitty thing to do to someone. To say you don't like something is one thing. But to generalize and claim melodramatically that it was filled with errors was cruel. But, given who the person is - we were not friends at the paper, but mere colleagues - it makes more sense today.

Today, I weeded out a nasty strangler. One that has been creeping up again that I should have rooted out a long time ago.

By admitting that there will always be better writers, smarter writers, better-read writers. That's the way of things.

By learning from my mistake of not going through one last, professional edit.

But also by admitting to myself that Surfacing is not filled with errors, but a few.

And that that email writer is filled with shit.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Scary Spice

This was shot when Gabrielle was only a year old, Halloween 2007

Had to include it here because it's too damn cute.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hoisting the Beast

Sunday we set off with the Buckfield Brood to get our annual Christmas tree. We don't travel very far. Maybe five miles. It's a happy jaunt just down the road a piece in our Suburban, pictured here. I drive it, because it's a big man's job.

Our house has 16-foot ceilings so we try to get a tree that fits. There's a local tree farm where you can drive in and around the rows of firs until you find the right match. They have little fat ones. Tall scrawny ones. Medium-sized ones with bald spots, the kind your dad would get and hide the dead spot by facing it in the corner.

Then there are our type of trees, way up on the highest point of the tree farm hill. Tall, majestic, pitch-covered trees. Full suckers. Takes me an hour to cut through the base as the other seven stand around and complain about the cold.

When the tree is cut down, it's hoisted up onto the Suburban. Reference the picture here.


I'm the one operating the crane, because it's a big man's job.

So, we drive back to the homestead, the one with the 16-foot ceilings.

And once we're back, the real fun begins. It's a technical process of measuring the distance between the ceiling and the floor. Then, cutting the base of the tree to length.

This takes eight trips back and forth, from house to tree, because measuring from the ceiling to the floor is a straight shot, whereas measuring a tree bows the tape measure and I never get the proper read.

And, of course, the saw I use came with the house, and tends to dull after just one pass. I've included it here for your viewing enjoyment. It's got a cool handle, but the blade is for shit. That's the technical term, I think.

So, after I've cut it to its appropriate length, Harrison, my oldest son (14), Ty, my oldest step-son (11), and Griffin, my youngest son, (5 months) drag the beast into the house. I am at the base, the heaviest part, because that's a big man's job. Harrison, Ty, and Griffin are at the tree top.

We stagger, grunt, groan, push, pull, and wedge the tree through the porch door the width of 16 inches. Then, it's a process of angling it through the main door, which, of course, is at a 90 degree angle to the porch door. This means walking the tree down the length of the porch to clear the porch door, then bending the tree so that it makes it through the main door.

Are you following me? Can you hear me swearing? Griffin is the only one smiling at this point. (See photo for proof)

He just sits there on the couch smiling at everyone. He smiles biggest when I use the F-word. (Oh, relax, like you've never sworn in front of your kids before.)

The tree then must pass through another door before it has made it's final destination: our expansive livingroom.

Here, it sits on the floor in the middle of the room while Harrison, Ty, and I cough up blood. And Griffin smiles, of course.

Meanwhile, Corrine and the girls (Fallon, Alyssa and Gabrielle) have been working on unwinding the tree lights and untangling the cursed metal hooks used in hanging the ornaments.

Once done, the tree goes up. A process of every one of use finding a point along the tree and tilting it upright, so long as it stays in the base. Last year, the base snapped in three places and I had to drop everything and go to the local hardware store to buy a new, industrial strength model.

Like most tree stands, this one has screws that you turn into the base to give the tree stability, but you have to make sure you tighten them equally or the tree will fall. Like it did last year.

Next, bungee cords. There are two eyehook screws screwed into the window sills on either side of the tree. One end of the bungee cord loops through these, the others are looped onto branches deep within the tree. Everyone lets go, and if it doesn't fall over, then I issue a proclamation that anyone touching the tree will be shot where they stand.

We actually got the tree in record time this year, had it hoisted much more quickly than last, and it was decorated by the end of the evening. It's wicked huge. I'll have more pictures later, i just gotta go to Wal-Mart and get them developed.






Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Yes, Alice, We're Crazy

So we're a home study away from adopting a child.

I say this with a straight face. With a family this large (eight including Corrine and I) people's natural reaction has been universal.

Us: "We're adopting"
Them: "A human?"
Us: "Yes. Real flesh and blood."
Them: "Are you okay? I mean, I can call someone. A hot line or something."

People naturally tend to believe that only childless couples adopt or foster. You know, Tod and Margo of Falmouth, with the Saab and the time share in Key West?

Isn't that the mythical adoptive couple we've all come to love from the movies? They're well-off, can't have children of their own, so they stop by the local orphanage in the city, on the corner of 12th and Oliver. They peruse the faces of the children as if shopping for a pomeranian, and then there, in the corner, (cue the music) is Jessie, a lovely 5-year-old with blond ringlets and a pink dress who clutches a Raggedy Ann Doll, the only thing that survived the car crash last Christmas Eve that killed her parents.

They embrace her before sweeping her off to New York City to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and a visit to FAO Schwartz.

Then there's Corrine and I, on the other hand (the welcome-back-to-reality hand), with no money, a 1994 POS Suburban, three teenagers, a preteen, a two-year-old and an infant. Our pug scratches his ass on our braided rug whenever company shows up (and you thought animals couldn't have OCD?) and the closest thing to a time share is a trip for pizza to the Buckfield Mall.

We did not go to an adoption agency. We have undergone a month of Saturday classes from DHHS, a home fire inspection, fingerprinting, an application, and offering the names of three friends and BOTH ex-spouses in order for them to fill out a questionnaire about us the length of the Bible.

We have been told that the far majority of these children in state custody have been subjected to some form of physical/emotional/sexual abuse; or witnessed said abuse; or are suffering from fetal alcohol syndrome; or been exposed to drug and alcohol; or are categorized as having some form of special need, such as autism.

So, yes, Alice, you could probably say we're crazy. But, Corrine and I are nothing if not unconventional. I mean, come on. We conceived a child, THEN we bought a house, THEN we conceived another child, and THEN we got married.

We have lived with just one motto: If it makes them think, then it's got to be right

Trust me, we've made loads of loved ones scratch their heads and crinkle their brows, and so far every choice - tough or easy - has turned out to be the right one.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Another Sappy Love Song In Which I Steal Some Lyrics and Put Them Next to A Cute Photo of the Love of My Life (consider yourself warned)

Sweet wonderful you,
You make me happy with the things you do,
Oh-oh-ho, can it be so?
This feelin' follows me wherever I go.

I never did believe in miracles.
But I've a feelin' it's time to try.
I never did believe in the ways of magic.
But I'm beginnin' to wonder why.

I never did believe in miracles.
But I've a feelin' it's time to try.
I never did believe in the ways of magic.
But I'm beginnin' to wonder why.

Don't, don't break the spell.
It would be different and you know it will.
You-ooo-hoo, you make lovin' fun,
And I don't have to tell you,
But you're the only one.

You, you make lovin' fun.
(It's all I wanna do.)
You, you make lovin' fun.
(It's all I wanna do.)
You, you make lovin' fun.
(It's all I wanna do.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Posing for Pappy

I have a copy of a photograph of my last remaining grandparent, Avis, whom we refer to as "Nana" and who is now in her early 90s.

It's a photo of her in her 30s and her arm is resting on the hood of a pick up truck in a field of swaying, waist-high grass. A pick up truck that you would see at a collector's show today, all shiny and refurbished and loved to a sparkling sheen.

In the photo she wears a sleeveless dress with a buttoned collar. Her hair - she had unrepentantly thick, dark hair back then - is tossed and pleated by wind. I've always imagined that she is posing for this atop a hill in Farmington or maybe somewhere further north. Taking just enough time out of whatever spine-wrecking work she was doing - potatoes? hay? - to pose for Pappy, her husband. Our now-deceased grandfather.

It looks like a high hill, for there is nothing in the far background but a white-hot, merciless summer sky. That's what I imagine anyway. I picture one of those awful, searing summer days that beat down. And she's wearing a dress to her shins. At least her arms are bare.

And there is Avis, posing for Pappy, and not wanting to because there's work to be done or somewhere to be.

They had a deep, loving relationship that was also acerbic and cynical. Typical of the Depression-era marriages, I would think. My imagination has always projected them in a scratchy, Grapes of Wrath kind of way, a black-and-white film with lots of decrepid buildings, bread lines, and squalor. Babies with dirty faces and chickens running around the front yard.

But also there was deep, abiding love, too, the seemingly mythical kind that comes with having nothing but each other. The kind you only see in movies.

An overly-romantic view, perhaps, but real nonetheless. Because Avis loved - and still loves to this day - Pappy abidingly. That is to say, there was no posing when it came to matters of real affection, even if it meant posing for Pappy on a hill in the middle of July.

You have heard it before somewhere, I'm sure. That poverty made families tighter and closer. That hard times meant you went without just about everything except kinship and deep, fathomless affinity for your loved-ones. This is what Nana knew. She lived it, and because she lived it (with so many others during that time) we all benefited from it later on.

We used to all get together, my family. My brothers and their wives and children; my sister and her family; and beyond them, my aunts and uncles with their broods. And Avis and Howard would be there too, at the table. Not just for the Big Three: Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. But for Sundays after church, and birthday parties, too.

They were boisterous, hectic, energy-sapping gatherings, to be sure. The kind that laid you out at the end of the day. The ones in which the adults were gathered in the kitchen, shootin the shit, as we say, while us kids stormed the wooded grounds outside playing whatever.

All of it has been pulled back, though. Like a familial tide: relatives are faded, out to sea somewhere, and I stand on the beach looking out for them. I know they're there. I can see them bobbing on the horizon. Keeping busy to stay afloat.

Pappy is gone. So is an aunt and an uncle. My own siblings are either scattered geographically, or emotionally. We don't even get together for our children's birthdays anymore.

I pulled the picture of Nana for a reason. I do every so often. To just take a look at the woman when she was upright and resilient, not slung into a wheelchair at a nursing home, drooling through her supper.

I'm nothing if not hopelessly romantic, tending toward maudlinness when it comes to assessing my own history. So I used to think I liked looking at it because it was taken so long ago. But I figured out the truth.

Avis is where I began. And where we all began. Avis and Howard, Ina and Ralph, my father's parents. They were the May Poles around which we, their offspring, have danced for so long, holding onto their streamers and not letting go.

Lately, with current happenings, I have (perhaps overdramatically) begun to realize that May has come and gone for us.

I want hope that this is not true. I want it in whatever form it comes.

I want her to pose for Pappy again. Somehow.

Please.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Spoiler Alert: This is Our Christmas Card

This is us. This is everyone. This is, from left to right, Ty (the All-In King); Alyssa (the Daunting); Corrine (the Bestest Ever); Gabrielle (the Skull Crusher); Me (the goddamn paterfamilias, of course); Griffin, (the Longbottom); Harrison (the Silent but Deadly); and Fallon (the Shakopee Assassin)

We are one of those blended families, kind of like fruit salad. Or maybe more like ambrosia. And this will be our Christmas card this year. I know, we're dressed more for a Hootie and the Blowfish concert than for Christmas, but this was sort of taken in a hurry at Corrine's folks a week ago. We didn't have time to get into a more festive wardrobe, if you will.

That's it. That's all I have. A picture of the tribe. The gang. The Buckfield mob.

(This was taken with a Minolta Verywide, Series OMG Lens)

Thursday, November 20, 2008

298

I have 47 3x5 cards on a table behind me, on which I have chronicled every scene of my new novel.

You know, the one I shelved because I wanted to be a serious writer so I jumped into doing a play?

Well, the play is shelved, for now.

Instead, I've returned to the novel, of which I have written 298 pages, or 68,281 words.

I put the index cards together in order to straighten myself out with the story. You have to understand, I haven't worked on it for a few months. Shifting gears for me is difficult.

I reread what I've written so far and I think it's a really good story. The writing, meanwhile, needs work. But isn't that the fun of writing?

This morning I pick up at page 298 and start to chisel 10 pages a day out of the story.

Ten a day for a month. That's my goal.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Hard Candy

Gabrielle choked on a lollipop last week. I gave it to her. I unwrapped it and handed it to her.

She was sitting between me and Corrine on the couch, after supper. She wasn't jumping around. She wasn't even moving.

There was just this sickening sound and the instant realization that she had swallowed it - stick and all. Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth and, keeping pressure, try to peel the back of your tongue away. It makes a peculiar noise from the back of the esophagus. Some people do it to scratch an itchy throat.

Corrine said it first but we both knew she was choking. Gabi seized up and began whimpering and shaking. I grabbed her with my left arm, bent her over and began pounding the middle of her back. She peed through her diaper and all over the couch. I reached into her mouth and she bit down hard on my thumb. I couldn't feel the lollipop.

I resumed pounding. Gabi was crying, a heaving, distressful grunting. Her body was hot in my hand. I was cognizant of the smell of supper; the sound of the television - a blurry noise, no acute details to what was on; there was a white hot heat in my ears; I saw stars at the edges of my eyes.

Corrine grabbed her by the jaw and reached into her mouth. In an instant she had the lollipop out and Gabi screamed. There was a little blood.

I grabbed her and held her and rubbed her back. For my own selfish reasons. And I felt a spike of anger and wanted to kick out the living room window or throw a chair. It was a sudden fury that subsided when I handed her to her mother. Gabi cried and then vomited her supper onto the floor.

For awhile after - a full day even - I had sudden waves of emotion. The full spectrum: numbing fear to anger to guilt and finally to deep, consuming sadness. The chest-ache kind.

It has taken me a week to write about it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

This Morning I Am Harold

Harold, you recall, is the boy in the pajamas who wielded a mighty purple crayon. Wherever he decided to go he did so by drawing the destination with his crayon. Need a moon for light to walk by? Harold drew it. Along with the path. And, well, everything else he needed. The sleepless lad was restricted only by his imagination. And a purple writing instrument.

Like Harold, I find myself unable to sleep lately and wish for a crayon. Of any color, frankly. I don't care. Lying awake, filled with ideas and thoughts, I wish I could at least tread the dark hours with Harold's crayon. I would not draw a moon or a path or stars or a house. I would not go on an adventure. I would draw the things that keep me awake, and then - true to a child's form - blot them all out with the long side of the crayon in one spectacular swath.

Sunday, November 9, 2008


I've written 22 pages of a play I'm tentatively calling "Night, With Ebon Pinion," which is actually the name of a late 19th century church hymn we used to sing in our church when I was growing up.

The play is not about the song itself, it merely acts as a centrifugal role in the action of the main character, Shep Danvers. That is to say, the song is a force within Shep that powers itself outward and acts upon the play's (Shep's) main action (what he wants).

And isn't that the way things are? We have things (past events, thoughts, damages - perceived and real) within ourselves that we are sure are buried deep enough; issues so embedded in the rock of our memory that they will never see the light of day even with the sharpest of miner's picks. And yet, somehow they manage to surface greater and with more meaning than we ever thought possible.

I'm struggling with this story. Greatly. Because it is a fundamental departure from my first published piece, Surfacing, which is a novel for young adults with a female main character who lives in the future and miles beneath the surface of the earth.

Folks, there isn't a shred of me in that novel, and that was done on purpose by yours truly. I've wanted more than anything in my life to be a writer, and when the time came for me to move to the level of published writer, I chickened out.

Maybe that's not fair. I love Surfacing for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that it is my firstborn. I love its story and its characters. But it is pure, unadulterated fantasy. The kind of what-if storytelling that you do when you're 10 and have the luxury of idling through your days scheming cool stories about superheroes and space flight and ... well ... unreality.

But I'm nothing if not all about the real. As an adult - since about the age of 22 - my story ideas have sprung from an inner well, as opposed to from something outside of my own experience.

So why then did I write a kid's book at 38 when I've got "serious" stories lined up in my mind like 727s on a tarmac?

Fear. Guilt. Shame.

That's the holy triumvirate of writers. The big three reasons we don't write what we know. Fear of failure. Fear of success at the expense of alienating our loved ones. Guilt about the revelation of "family secrets" (when we know deep down that these are amalgams of people and events, not biographies); shame brought on from the pain of that guilt.

I cannot tell you the number of titles I have started atop a blank page, the numerous paragraphs I have devoted to writing from the heart, only to see them balled up and tossed unceremoniously into a wastebasket.

So back to 'Night'. I will not reveal what the play is "about" because I don't know yet. It's unfinished, you see. And I refuse to tell you what happens, because then I won't write it. I learned that lesson a long time ago.

What I will share - or I thought I was sharing - is my sense of danger every time I sit down to write. I feel like I'm on an emotional precipice as I roll my chair up to my keyboard and look at the computer screen. Kind of like hanging your toes over the edge of the Grand Canyon and peering down. Am I taking a foolish risk by flirting with the edge? And what is this overwhelming desire to just fucking leap? To hell with gravity and the consequences.

I read what I have written (a cardinal sin, but one I am compelled to commit) and I "like" what is there. It's walking a path on its own and its pace and movement is natural - when it moves at all; when it isn't tethered by the aforementioned Big Three, which is frequent.

I guess an analogy would be to use a Jack London scenario. A man is in the rocky wilderness of the southwest, on a stony path. The only path he can take to get to safety. It's a journey that must happen under the cover of darkness of night (of course!!), and along the way he must go uphill (of double course!!). He is stalled by tripping roots and troublesome stones (guilt); he is thwarted by a buffeting wind that threatens to toss him over the edge of the cliff to his right (shame) and even if he succeeds in overcoming those, up ahead he hears a telltale rattle and does not know under which boulder the snake is hidden (fear.)

I like this. I hate it but I love it because I know now that the completion of the play has little to do with being successful and almost everything to do with what writing is supposed to be about.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Barack

Hello, Chicago.

If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible, who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time, who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer.

It's the answer told by lines that stretched around schools and churches in numbers this nation has never seen, by people who waited three hours and four hours, many for the first time in their lives, because they believed that this time must be different, that their voices could be that difference.

It's the answer spoken by young and old, rich and poor, Democrat and Republican, black, white, Hispanic, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled. Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been just a collection of individuals or a collection of red states and blue states.

We are, and always will be, the United States of America.

It's the answer that led those who've been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful about what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.

It's been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.

A little bit earlier this evening, I received an extraordinarily gracious call from Sen. McCain.

Sen. McCain fought long and hard in this campaign. And he's fought even longer and harder for the country that he loves. He has endured sacrifices for America that most of us cannot begin to imagine. We are better off for the service rendered by this brave and selfless leader.

I congratulate him; I congratulate Gov. Palin for all that they've achieved. And I look forward to working with them to renew this nation's promise in the months ahead.

I want to thank my partner in this journey, a man who campaigned from his heart, and spoke for the men and women he grew up with on the streets of Scranton and rode with on the train home to Delaware, the vice president-elect of the United States, Joe Biden.

And I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady Michelle Obama.

Sasha and Malia I love you both more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House.

And while she's no longer with us, I know my grandmother's watching, along with the family that made me who I am. I miss them tonight. I know that my debt to them is beyond measure.

To my sister Maya, my sister Alma, all my other brothers and sisters, thank you so much for all the support that you've given me. I am grateful to them.

And to my campaign manager, David Plouffe, the unsung hero of this campaign, who built the best -- the best political campaign, I think, in the history of the United States of America.

To my chief strategist David Axelrod who's been a partner with me every step of the way.

To the best campaign team ever assembled in the history of politics you made this happen, and I am forever grateful for what you've sacrificed to get it done.

But above all, I will never forget who this victory truly belongs to. It belongs to you. It belongs to you.

I was never the likeliest candidate for this office. We didn't start with much money or many endorsements. Our campaign was not hatched in the halls of Washington. It began in the backyards of Des Moines and the living rooms of Concord and the front porches of Charleston. It was built by working men and women who dug into what little savings they had to give $5 and $10 and $20 to the cause.

It grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy who left their homes and their families for jobs that offered little pay and less sleep.

It drew strength from the not-so-young people who braved the bitter cold and scorching heat to knock on doors of perfect strangers, and from the millions of Americans who volunteered and organized and proved that more than two centuries later a government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from the Earth.

This is your victory.

And I know you didn't do this just to win an election. And I know you didn't do it for me.

You did it because you understand the enormity of the task that lies ahead. For even as we celebrate tonight, we know the challenges that tomorrow will bring are the greatest of our lifetime -- two wars, a planet in peril, the worst financial crisis in a century.

Even as we stand here tonight, we know there are brave Americans waking up in the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan to risk their lives for us.

There are mothers and fathers who will lie awake after the children fall asleep and wonder how they'll make the mortgage or pay their doctors' bills or save enough for their child's college education.

There's new energy to harness, new jobs to be created, new schools to build, and threats to meet, alliances to repair.

The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there.

I promise you, we as a people will get there.

There will be setbacks and false starts. There are many who won't agree with every decision or policy I make as president. And we know the government can't solve every problem.

But I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face. I will listen to you, especially when we disagree. And, above all, I will ask you to join in the work of remaking this nation, the only way it's been done in America for 221 years -- block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand.

What began 21 months ago in the depths of winter cannot end on this autumn night.

This victory alone is not the change we seek. It is only the chance for us to make that change. And that cannot happen if we go back to the way things were.

It can't happen without you, without a new spirit of service, a new spirit of sacrifice.

So let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.

Let us remember that, if this financial crisis taught us anything, it's that we cannot have a thriving Wall Street while Main Street suffers.

In this country, we rise or fall as one nation, as one people. Let's resist the temptation to fall back on the same partisanship and pettiness and immaturity that has poisoned our politics for so long.

Let's remember that it was a man from this state who first carried the banner of the Republican Party to the White House, a party founded on the values of self-reliance and individual liberty and national unity.

Those are values that we all share. And while the Democratic Party has won a great victory tonight, we do so with a measure of humility and determination to heal the divides that have held back our progress.

As Lincoln said to a nation far more divided than ours, we are not enemies but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection.

And to those Americans whose support I have yet to earn, I may not have won your vote tonight, but I hear your voices. I need your help. And I will be your president, too.

And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.

To those -- to those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you. To those who seek peace and security: We support you. And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright: Tonight we proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity and unyielding hope.

That's the true genius of America: that America can change. Our union can be perfected. What we've already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

This election had many firsts and many stories that will be told for generations. But one that's on my mind tonight's about a woman who cast her ballot in Atlanta. She's a lot like the millions of others who stood in line to make their voice heard in this election except for one thing: Ann Nixon Cooper is 106 years old.

She was born just a generation past slavery; a time when there were no cars on the road or planes in the sky; when someone like her couldn't vote for two reasons -- because she was a woman and because of the color of her skin.

And tonight, I think about all that she's seen throughout her century in America -- the heartache and the hope; the struggle and the progress; the times we were told that we can't, and the people who pressed on with that American creed: Yes we can.

At a time when women's voices were silenced and their hopes dismissed, she lived to see them stand up and speak out and reach for the ballot. Yes we can.

When there was despair in the dust bowl and depression across the land, she saw a nation conquer fear itself with a New Deal, new jobs, a new sense of common purpose. Yes we can.

When the bombs fell on our harbor and tyranny threatened the world, she was there to witness a generation rise to greatness and a democracy was saved. Yes we can.

She was there for the buses in Montgomery, the hoses in Birmingham, a bridge in Selma, and a preacher from Atlanta who told a people that "We Shall Overcome." Yes we can.

A man touched down on the moon, a wall came down in Berlin, a world was connected by our own science and imagination.

And this year, in this election, she touched her finger to a screen, and cast her vote, because after 106 years in America, through the best of times and the darkest of hours, she knows how America can change.

Yes we can.

America, we have come so far. We have seen so much. But there is so much more to do. So tonight, let us ask ourselves -- if our children should live to see the next century; if my daughters should be so lucky to live as long as Ann Nixon Cooper, what change will they see? What progress will we have made?

This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment.

This is our time, to put our people back to work and open doors of opportunity for our kids; to restore prosperity and promote the cause of peace; to reclaim the American dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth, that, out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope. And where we are met with cynicism and doubts and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Thank you. God bless you. And may God bless the United States of America

Monday, October 27, 2008

Room With A Lesser View


I am moving my office from the moderately large bedroom at the back of the house, with its window that overlooks the pond and rolling acreage, to a moderately cramped bedroom in the middle of the house with a window that overlooks the neighbor's basketball hoop and leaf-littered lawn.

The move is to appease my oldest daughter and has nothing to do with the view. In fact, I went to great pains not to enjoy the view from my previous office because it was way too easy a distraction. Let's see: look at apple trees and a pond and a bank of trees, or write. Hmmmmmmm. (I have included an image of the back yard here, for your viewing pleasure)

When we moved into our house we gave the children the pick of the bedrooms, starting with Fallon, the oldest. She chose the largest in the house: a palatial chunk of real estate, with five windows, a fireplace (capped, but still pretty cool) and a telephone hookup.

As it turns out, Fallon feels more like she's sleeping in a museum than a bedroom, what with the lack of furniture to dull the echo. She has a bed, a bureau, a slender bookshelf, a sewing table, and a hairbrush. This leaves an acre of floor in the middle of the room, give or take.

Gabrielle, an infant when we moved in, is now mobile in the worst of ways, which means she needs her own space. So we're doing the bedroom shuffle thusly:

  • We're moving into Fallon's bedroom
  • Fallon is moving into my old office
  • Ty, once with the tiniest bedroom in the house has moved to Alyssa's third floor roost (which also has a window looking out over the pond, just from a higher angle)
  • Alyssa has moved across the hall to Harrison's old room, the one on whose wall I painted the Green Monster and whose ceiling has a skylight
  • Harrison has moved to the first-floor bedroom off the kitchen once occupied by my sister, who has moved across the street into her boyfriend's house (now THAT's how you get a date: pick the fella across the street. It saves moving expenses)
  • Gabrielle has staked a claim on our old bedroom, but let's be real, she sleeps with us
  • I have moved my office into the tiniest of rooms.

I sit there now, after having moved two thirds of my possessions yesterday. Two thirds of my possessions is code for MY BOOKS. (the other third comprises clothes I don't wear, clothes I wear over and over, a pair of dress shoes, sandals, a toothbrush)

This tiny bedroom-turned-office has a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf seven tiers tall and perhaps 10 feet in width. And my books just about fill it.

My desk is in the corner opposite the bookshelf, kitty corner, so that as I type this I can detect, peripherally, my books but can also see the outline of trees through the window. Not a great distraction, but enough light to inspire, which is the best kind of window a writer should have.

The house, built in 1850 during John McCain's first run for the presidency, is slightly pitched toward the middle. Door casings slope toward center, as do the floors, the stairs, the windows. Anything made of wood, let's say. In fact, my second-oldest brother complains that he needs to be drunk in order to walk a straight line in my home.

This means my office - my NEW office - slopes too. So I sit here, kitty corner to the bookshelf and the window-without-a-view, and my office-chair-on-casters rolls toward the door.

Picture a Charlie Chaplin movie that takes place on a steamer ship. Poor Charlie is trying to eat soup at a table with the room continually pitching left and right, the soup bowl sliding away from him just as he dips his spoon, then slides back to him, teasingly.

That's me, except the house doesn't tip me back to my desk. I have to use my legs, Fred Flinstone style, to get back. It's a muscle-pulling kind of exercise. There's a metaphor in there somewhere, I know - something about outside forces pulling me away from writing - and I'd write it down if I could just GET BACK TO MY COMPUTER!

Anyway. I'm back. Breathless, as it were, from the exertion. But I'm enjoying my new office. I think I'll peruse my books, the ones I've neglected for two years and will now probably re-neglect, but hey, they look way cooler in their floor-to-ceiling bunks. It just LOOKS like a writer's bookshelf. Stephen Kingsian, let's say. I wish I had a pipe right now.

Or maybe I'll just take time out to enjoy the view of my neighbor's ...um... driveway.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

From Sting to Weather Report: A Sampler


I bought an iTunes gift card the other day and gave it to myself. Is there any other way? Here is what I spent my hard-earned money on:

  • Tea In The Sahara by Sting. The silky song inspired by the book The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles
  • Art For Art's Sake by 10cc. Maybe the weirdest band ever.
  • Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds the Elton John remake. Friggin' A, man!
  • We Are In Love the awesome album by Harry Connick Jr., whose singing no one has confused with mine
  • Flash's Theme by Queen. You know, the movie Flash Gordon?!?
  • If I had a Hammer by Peter, Paul, and Mary. Gotta love 60's antiwar folk songs
  • I Dig Rock n Roll also by PP&M
  • Feelin' Alright by Joe Cocker. The coolest use of the vibraslap in any rock song
  • Wicked Game by Chris Isaak. Remember the 1991 video in which he's laying around the beach with the nude model? Holy crap. Cool song, too.
  • Fade Into You by Mazzy Star. Haunting song. Very ethereal.
  • Thank U by Alanis Morissette. How can you beat a song that starts "How 'bout getting off these antibiotics"...?
  • April Come She Will by Simon and Garfunkel. I picture a rainy day, a farmhouse with dirty, cobwebby windows for some reason. But in a good way
  • Uninvited by Alanis Morissette. I don't know why, but when I hear this my balls shrivel up and I feel like I've just been rejected at a junior high dance
  • Empty Garden Elton John's loving tribute to John Lennon. Mark David Chapman, fuck you
  • Electric Counterpoint I by Pat Methany, a song NOT for those with ADHD or prone to seizures
  • Here's Where the Story Ends by The Sundays. A chipper, fun-loving, bubbly kind of song. About breaking up. Mmmm. delish...
  • Journey to Fort Sedgewick from the soundtrack "Dances With Wolves" by John Barry. Sweeping prairie vistas, loads of wheat and the prospect of injuns. Cool!
  • Why by Annie Lennox, who started out in the 80s with the Eurythmics and was a strange gal. Still strange, but a great song that starts with How many times do I have to try to tell you/That I'm sorry for the things I've done
  • Birdland by Weather Report, a 70s jazz fusion band. My oldest brother, Alden, had the album (Heavy Weather) so naturally it reminds me of him.